By Patrick Anderson
Community support will determine whether supermarket chain Whole Foods Market commits this summer to building a harborfront wind turbine to power its Parker Street fish processing plant, the company's regional "ecoczar" says.
Introducing the windmill project publicly in Gloucester for the first time Tuesday, Whole Foods' Lee Kane confirmed that the company wants to erect a $2 million, 240-foot windmill at its Pigeon Cove Plant at the base of the Jodrey State Fish Pier, but is weighing public opinion as well as technical feasibility before launching a formal application.
"In order for it to be feasible for Whole Foods, it will have to be feasible for the community," Kane, whose titles includes "regional forager" as well as "ecoczar," said in a phone interview yesterday. "We are not going to get in what is not good for Gloucester."
But, he added, "if we are going to do a wind project anywhere, it would be here."
In their first round of questions to Whole Foods, city councilors, who would have ultimate say on a windmill, reserved judgment on the project, but many said they wanted the project's financial benefits to reach local fishermen.
"I don't want to see the harbor filled with windmills," said Ward 2 Councilor John "Gus" Foote, a perennial advocate for fishermen. "I am not going to commit either way. A lot of promises are made on a lot of things. I want to make sure Gloucester fishermen are going to benefit."
Councilor Sefatia Romeo Theken said she was concerned with the potential effect on residents of "flicker" from the shadows of the turbine's spinning blades in the early morning and evening hours.
Ward 3 Councilor Steve Curcuru said the fact that Whole Foods is leasing the Parker Street property it would build on, instead of buying it, raised concerns about its long-term commitment to a large piece of equipment such as a windmill.
Whole Foods' 12-year-old Pigeon Cove Plant, which cleans, cuts, packs and ships fish for its stores, is under a 20-year lease from the Montagnino family, which fully supports the windmill project, Kane said.
The plant has historically used 650,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, but is completing an expansion expected to bring its consumption up to between 850,000 and 900,000 kilowatt-hours annually, Kane said.
The 240-foot turbine is estimated to generate 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, with any excess presumably sold back into the energy grid.
To defray the $2 million cost of purchasing and installing the windmill, Whole Foods is targeting $400,000 in state renewable energy funds, as well as series of federal tax credits, said Steven Weisman, a consultant working with Whole Foods on the project for Peregrine Energy Group.
The company bought $2 million pounds of fish in 2008, has contracts with 45 individual boats and employs 58 people at the Gloucester plant itself, according to its presentation to the council.
The only national supermarket chain to process and distribute its own seafood, Whole Foods' only other East Coast plant is in Florida. Kane said the company is only expanding its fresh fish operations, and does not have any plans he is aware of to build another facility.
Asked by councilors why the company did not pursue a solar project in Gloucester, Kane said a wind turbine was the only renewable way to generate enough power to put a dent in its energy costs.
Kane said a decision on whether to submit a formal application for a City Council special permit would come before the fall. If all goes well with permitting, construction would begin next year.
The next step in the public process is likely to be a neighborhood meeting arranged by Ward 1 Councilor Jason Grow before the end of this month.
Grow, who called his position on the project "cautiously supportive," said an urban windmill project such as the Whole Foods proposal would test the community's commitment to popular principles such as renewable energy and economic development of marine industries.
"You have a marine industrial business that has indicated that they are not going anywhere — it has all the connections to why people should want to encourage it," Grow said. "It is going to come down to people's aesthetic sense of the harbor."
Patrick Anderson can be reached at email@example.com